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Lefties: failed philosophy has blinded them


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August 29, 2003 -- THE rise of an ardent, pas sionate, angry and en gaged left is the most im portant political story of 2003.

The hottest book of the new publishing season is Al Franken's "Lies (and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)." Joe Conason of the New York Observer has a fast-selling tome called "Big Lies." At the end of September comes "The Lies of George Bush" by David Corn of the Nation magazine, which will likely hit the bestseller list as well.

The triumphant success of Howard Dean's once-quixotic presidential campaign in marshaling genuine grass-roots support and money over the Internet demonstrates that there is a large and hungry audience in the land for a leftist political-cultural message.

The Dean campaign is a more mainstream outgrowth of the popular demonstrations against the Iraq war organized last winter by the Stalinist anti-Semites of International ANSWER.

This is how movements begin. Pamphleteers like Franken, who often use ad hominem humor as a potent weapon, give fuel and intellectual ammunition to activists like those who marched against the war. The combination of emotion and enthusiasm gives a serious political candidacy like Dean's the turbo-charged momentum to zoom ahead of more conventional rivals.

Part of what fuels this alliance is a feeling of powerlessness — of not being heard, of not being paid attention to. Note the rise of what I like to call "Foxanoia," the lunatic theory popular these days in leftist circles that the Fox News Channel has become the dominant voice in all of America and is controlling every piece of information that gets out to the American people.

Now, as a contributor to the Fox News Channel and an employee of the corporation that owns it, I consider Foxanoia very helpful to my supervisors' ability to keep paying my salary.

But it's absurd to claim that, because Fox has bested CNN and MSNBC in the cable-news race, its influence surpasses the combined might of the three broadcast networks, the news magazines and the editorial guidance given at most of the major daily U.S. newspapers.

It's so absurd, in fact, that few on the right genuinely believe that people on the left genuinely suffer from Foxanoia. My fellow conservatives tend to think the argument that there's no liberal media anymore is simply a smokescreen, a sophistic dodge.

It's not. They do believe it, because they believe so ardently in the power of the media that they figure their inability to stop the Iraq war from happening can only be explained by the rise of a pro-war media.

In fact, they lost an argument about the nature of terrorism, rogue nations and world power after 9/11. But they can't bear to admit that, so they instead argue that Bush only prevailed because of lies he told, that Fox and Ann Coulter only succeed because they lie.

These folks believe a grotesque, nearly cosmic unfairness is going on — a wrong that must be righted. Everything — everything — has gone wrong since 2001. "The Bush administration has done virtually nothing good for the country," says Michael Tomasky, who as editor-elect of the American Prospect magazine will be making the more cerebral versions of the arguments offered in Franken's unabashed screed.

That is a powerful glue, the perfect opinion for the rise of a mass movement.

The problem for the Foxanoia axis is this: What, aside from hating Bush and the Fox News Channel, do they believe in?

Is there anything positive they can say about America? And I don't mean about George Bush's America — I mean about America in general.

Take almost any subject. On race, can a Foxanoid leftist say anything other than the relations between the races are in disastrous shape? On the environment, does a Foxanoid have anything to offer other than that the sky is falling and the earth is melting?

On economics, the Foxanoid mantra is always the same: There is a growing gap between rich and poor, a growing deficit that will eat away at everything, a growing job loss. Oh, and tax cuts are evil.

And don't even ask about the War on Terror, which according to the Foxanoids is a) going badly because we haven't been tough enough on al Qaeda and B) going badly because we've been too tough in the application of anti-terror laws and c) going badly because the world hates us and d) going badly because we deserve it that the world hates us.

What can the Foxanoids offer as a message of hope for the future? Cheaper prescription drugs? Please.

Yes, the left is rising. But for the left to truly challenge the right for dominance of the intellectual debate, its leaders and thinkers will need to be able to offer a picture of a better, safe and wealthier United States.

And the problem for those who describe themselves as "progressives" is that they can see no progress anywhere. All they see is misery stretched out far into the future.

Their failed philosophy has blinded them, left them incapable of conceiving of a positive future or offering even a road map out of their own misery.

Except, maybe, if somebody would come along and invent a rival to the Fox News Channel.

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